The Rise of Yahwism: The Roots of Israelite Monotheism (Bibliotheca Ephemeridum Theologicarum Lovaniensium XCI)

Written by Johannes C. de Moor Reviewed By Richard S. Hess

De Moor studies Yahwism and Israel in the second millennium bc. In order to argue for the presence of Yahweh worship at that time, de Moor turns to personal names found in ancient Israel. He follows the onomastic studies of Tigay and Fowler in objecting to any argument for large-scale redaction of the biblical record of personal names in favour of a monotheistic perspective. The presence of a small number of polytheistic names in the Bible testifies against this. El names are more popular than Yahweh names before the ninth century, and both deities were identified in Israel long before David. De Moor does not consider the possibility that El could be a generic term for deity.

De Moor turns to religious beliefs in Ancient Near Eastern cultures of the late-second millennium in order to find evidence of monotheism. In New Kingdom Egypt, Akenaten worshipped a single deity. In Mesopotamia, the Kassites made Marduk king of the gods. With the appearance of Enuma Elish (c. 1200 bc), Marduk became alone god. Other deities were aspects of Marduk. At Ugarit, the myths reveal the emergence of Haddu as the replacement for the old deity El, under the guise of Ba’lu. In southern Canaan, in Palestine and Transjordan, El remained important.

De Moor finds the earliest attestations of Yahweh in (1) ‘m yhwh, ‘people of Yahweh’, a title applied to Israel in the Song of Deborah; (2) the ‘Shosu-land of yhw’ in a topographical list of Amenophis III; (3) personal names of ia-we in a 14th-century Amarna letter from Abimilki of Tyre (EA154.8) and at Alalakh; and (4) in Yw, a deity in a myth from Ugarit (KTU 1.1 iv 13–20). Yahweh is to be understood originally as a yqtl-form of the West Semitic root hwy, meaning ‘Let El be!’. ia-ah-wi and ia-wi constructions are attested in Amorite PNs from Mari, normally followed by a DN. yqtl-verbal forms are invariably found as names of divine ancestors, the minor deities of Ugarit. For de Moor this suggests that Yahweh comes from the name of a long-forgotten king who was divinized. As with the analysis of monotheism in comparable Ancient Near Eastern societies, all of this remains highly conjectural (cf. my ‘References to the Divine Name Yahweh in Late Bronze Age Sources?’, Ugarit Forschungen 23, 1991).

Unfortunately, the same is also true of de Moor’s reconstruction of early Israel’s history by sequentially dating various pieces of biblical Hebrew poetry. Thus, Israel sojourned in Bashan c. 1220 bc. Following the battle of Kadesh, this was one area which continued to enjoy a prosperity remembered in Psalm 68:1–25. They knew of no exodus from Egypt (argument from silence) but rather of a victorious march from Qedesh in the south through Transjordan to Bashan. Habbakuk 3 originally reflects a battle between the Israelites of Bashan and the sea peoples at the end of the 13th century. De Moor does not interact with Tsumura’s argument for a Neo-Assyrian context to Habbakuk 3 (cf. D.T. Tsumura, ‘Ugaritic Poetry and Habakkuk 3’, Tyndale Bulletin 40 (1989), pp. 24–48).

De Moor identifies Moses with Beya, a Semitic scribe in Egypt. Initially influential, he fell into disfavour and disappeared from the Egyptian records. De Moor suggests Beya fled east and south with allies. The oracles of Balaam in Numbers 22–24 are to be dated c. 1190 bc when the Israelites under Beya/Moses arrive in Transjordan and are about to subdue Moab. Deuteronomy 32 describes the theological reflection which went on at this time. God was in control, with other lesser deities mentioned (v. 24). De Moor believes Shechem may have been the first area given to the Israelites in Cisjordan. Joshua 24 records an authentic event, though in later language. The covenant was a syncretistic union of Yahweh/El with Baal, reflecting the union of the incoming Israelites with the Canaanites, c. 1150 bc. Thus each group saw their own particular deity in the event. De Moor traces continued development of Yahwism through the periods of the judges and of David and Solomon. During the united monarchy, the accounts were rewritten in the sequence of events which now occurs in later texts, such as Exodus 15.

Among the problems with this interpretation, there stand out the attestation of Yahweh in second-millennium sources, the identification of Beya with Moses, the dating of Exodus 15 into the period of the monarchy and the subsequent attempt to identify the sequence of God leading his people followed by the battle with the waters as original (rather than vice versa). Most important, however, is a subjective use of the biblical sources which rearranges them according to theories based on little or no historical evidence.

Among the contributions are the recognition of religious sentiment as a significant stimulus to the origins of Israel, the sensitivity to the religious and ideological realities of the Late Bronze Age and their parallels with early Israelite literature, the willingness to consider personal names as a course of evidence for the religion of the people, and the insistence on the importance of the early role of the personal and later the national covenant with God. De Moor provides a useful counterpoint to many materialist theories about early Israel which are too easily accepted as the only possible synthesis of the data.

Richard S. Hess

Denver Seminary, Denver